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August 1995 Volume 2 Number 8

Illegal Immigration to South Africa


South Africa is a nation bordered by impoverished neighbors. The per capita income in South Africa is $2,560 compared to Mozambique's $80 and $650 in Zimbabwe.

The South African army estimates that the number of illegal immigrants in the country is about five million (12 percent of the population), but admits that there could be as many eight million (20 percent). Many of the illegal immigrants are from Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Lesotho, and many who work in sugarcane or on cotton farms. In the first five months of 1995, the army captured 2,247 illegal immigrants crossing the border without documents.

The South African government is reluctant to offend neighboring countries who sheltered many of those escaping apartheid. At the same time, resentment against illegal immigrants in South Africa is rising. The Johannesburg-based Center for Policy Studies reported that a majority of South Africans hold illegal immigrants responsible for the nation's high unemployment rate, homelessness, and other social problems.

Some in the government would like to see longtime illegal immigrants given South African citizenship. Others want a regional migration policy with quotas, and still others call for the development of impoverished neighboring states to remove the economic incentive to leave.

The South African police report that Swaziland has become a major avenue for illegal immigrants to enter South Africa. A Swazi syndicate is providing false documents that illegal immigrants use to get into the country. Many of the illegal aliens arrested told border police that controls are tighter along the Mozambican border than the Swazi border.

The South African army is urging the government step up the voltage on a fence that runs between the Mozambique border and South Africa's Kruger National Park to Swaziland to prevent illegal entry. South Africa in 1990 changed the setting on the electric fences on its borders from lethal shocks to a setting that provides only a mild shock.

The fence was originally erected to make crossings by guerrillas of the African National Congress more hazardous from 1986 to 1989. Human rights groups argue that the fence will not stop illegal immigration.


Sudarsan Raghvan, "South Africa's Immigrant Dilemma, San Francisco Chronicle, July 27, 1995. Marius Bosch, "S. Africa under pressure from illegal immigrants," Reuters, July 6, 1995. "Swaziland: Springboard for illegal immigrants to S. Africa, "UPI, July 4, 1995. "Illegal Immigrants flood S. Africa," United Press International, June 9, 1995.
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